Monday, May 23, 2016

Is the ministry of Integrity still needed?

Is the ministry of Integrity still needed?

You are probably aware that I have been posing a series of questions on the Friday Flash each week for the last few weeks. All of them focused on the way or lens with which you view your circumstances as an LGBTQ person where you live as well as how you view the situation for where others live. My point was to get us all to try and see that the rest of the world may not be the same as our own when it comes to being able to live the lives with which God blessed us.

My methodology – and yes there has been one – was to prepare for critical questions about the future of Integrity USA as an organization. I frequently hear the following or an equivalent: “Why do we still need Integrity?” “Is there still a reason for Integrity’s mission?” “Do we still need Integrity?”

I think the best way to respond to those questions is to share a few observations with you about “LGBTQ life” in this country. (And be forewarned that this is a longer than usual column, but I ask you to keep reading.) Please consider the following:

There are still dioceses in The Episcopal Church where priests are forbidden to marry same gender couples. The Diocese of Central Florida comes to mind, but there are some in Province II and other provinces as well.

In my own diocese there is a rector who refuses to officiate at same gender marriages, which is his prerogative under our polity, but he also refuses to allow same gender marriages to be performed at all in “his” church. Dear friends of mine have finally left after serving there for 25 years because they could not be married in their own church.

Openly LGBT clergy have greater difficulty finding employment that fulfils their calling as ordained persons in many dioceses in our church. Deployment is not bias free in our church.

In some jurisdictions of the secular world, a same gender couple who marries on Saturday can be terminated from employment on Monday just because they identified as LGBT, despite the likelihood they were model employees. We may now have an openly gay man as Secretary of the Army (Eric Fanning: An Openly Gay Man Runs the Army ) but that doesn’t suddenly make life good for all of us.

One need only look to the State of North Carolina to see that the quest for full equality as LGBTQ persons is alive and well. Mississippi has tried to enact similar legislation. We would have had the most discriminatory laws in the nation in my home state of Georgia had not the Governor vetoed the bill. (Supporters of the bigoted legislation have vowed to bring it up again next year.)

As much as we might stereotypically believe, such attitudes are NOT limited to the southern portion of the United States! Consider the story of a Vermont teen who is a transgender male and what he had to contend with in his high school. The following link takes you to the story in the NY Times: Transgender Bathroom Debate Turns Personal at a Vermont High School


Consider also how things differ based on just being in a particular city in a state. In a large city, LGBTQ folks can often be themselves without fear of harassment. They can also get involved in the political process and express themselves accordingly. Such is not the case in smaller towns, even in the same state.

Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would allow for discriminatory practices based on one’s sincerely held religious beliefs. It is the First Amendment Defense Act, also known as FADA, but is in fact a thinly veiled means to allow discrimination.

If you have followed LOGO TV’s show “RuPaul’s Drag Race” you have witnessed the pain some contestants have suffered because they are LGBT. The creator of the show has made it clear that he intended to show how life was in different places and highlight the pain contestants had borne. (There is more than one way to educate people…..even subliminally!) Take this link to RuPaul’s own comments about the socially enlightening nature of the show and how it highlights the vast differences in where people live: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Highlights the Struggle for Acceptance

Where one lives, works and worships has a direct influence on how or if that person can be the person God created them to be.

The forces behind these discriminatory actions, at least in the South, are faith communities and how they influence the political processes in their respective jurisdictions. This is clearly so in Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi. The loudest voices of discrimination come from churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelically oriented faith communities. This does not always mean those faith communities have the largest numbers in terms of support, but it does mean that they are being the “loudest” about the issues.

How many among us are equipped to, willing and able to share our own faith community’s perspective on LGBTQ issues? Do we know how to witness to our own faith in one-on-one settings much less in a legislative committee hearing? When was the last time any of us gave witness to the power of Jesus Christ in our own lives? It isn’t easy, but it is something God has asked of us. It’s time to get “quietly loud” about our own faith.

If we live in certain places, the issues of being discriminated against may never cross our radar screens. Most of us do not live in those certain places. Most of us live in a place of uncertainty about how much of who we really are can be shown to the world at large and even to our own faith communities. It is all a result of the lens through which you see your own life and the life of others, especially those who do not live where you live.

The answer to the questions about a continued need for the ministry of Integrity might be coming more clear by now. From my own perspective, there absolutely remains a strong need for our ministry…..perhaps more so than other times in our history. I would ask you to ponder the question yourselves.

Integrity has a role in equipping the saints to share a different faith story about LGBTQ issues than lawmakers and policy makers in the secular realm have heard before. We can help provide the resources LGBTQ folks need to go into a hearing room and speak about a potentially discriminatory piece of legislation and do so from their own faith based perspective. We are blessed to have non-LGBTQ allies who stand up for and speak for us. But it is time we used our own voices to combat discrimination.

Integrity has a role in working with parishes and dioceses to help others understand first and fore most that LGBTQ members of our church are not very different from themselves…..we are all blessed by the same God, feel the rain from the same sky, enjoy the warmth from the same sun…..we have lives often just as boring as their own!!

Being able to marry the person we wish has not resolved all of the ills of discrimination and bigotry in the church or wider society.

Integrity has a role in helping create safe spaces for our own LGBTQ youth to exit their various closets and take their places in the warmth of the God who created and loves them…..exactly as they are. Those of us who are in leadership roles in our parishes do well to remember that young people are always observing us and that they are likely aware that we are LGBTQ ourselves. We teach when we do not always know we are teaching.

So, in response to the questions about whether there is still a need and purpose for Integrity, I must profess a very loud and firm YES!

I hope you agree….even if you live in the most LGBTQ friendly and safe space on the planet. I hope you agree and will join Integrity if you are not a member. I hope you will be even more supportive if you are a member by sharing your time and financial resources. I hope you will be an advocate in seeking new members of Integrity to join you/us in what is an important and lifesaving ministry.

We all pray and hope that there will be a time when there is no need for Integrity or any other organization seeking justice for all of God’s children. That time has not arrived. We continue to pray and work with the resources God has blessed us to use in the form of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Friday, April 22, 2016

Mission and Vision of Integrity USA

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

We greet you in the name of our Risen Lord and hope that these fifty days of Easter are times of joy for you.

At our most recent meeting of Integrity USA’s Board of Directors, we looked at the mission statement and vision statement for Integrity USA.  We felt that they needed to be updated, refined somewhat and better reflect where Integrity’s mission is directed for the foreseeable future.

We redirected the focus of Integrity USA in a more outward direction and less introspective.  The Good News of the Gospel is to be carried forth into the world….not pondered!  We wanted the organizational mission and vision to help guide and direct us toward where we and those we seek to reach should be in a world where there is still injustice and prejudice towards LGBTQ people. We created what we think will provide new energy toward addressing the still-present issues of discrimination and exclusion in our own nation and still, even in some parts of our church.

Mission Statement
As an Episcopal LGBTQ organization, Integrity USA proclaims and embodies
the all-inclusive love of God through worship, education, and advocacy.

Vision Statement
Integrity envisions a church where people
of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions
are welcomed and affirmed.


We invite you to join us in both mission and vision as we seek to bring the fully inclusive Good News of Jesus Christ to all.

Integrity USA Board of Directors: (l to r) The Rev. Carolyn Woodall, The Rev. Gwen Fry,
S.Wayne Mathis, DeAnna Bosch, Bruce Garner, Mel Soriano
Photo taken at All Saints Church, Atlanta.


Bruce Garner
President, Integrity USA

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Anti-LGBTQ legislation masquerading as “religious freedom” legislation


Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

We continue to see a backlash in more than one state legislature over the Supreme Court decision legalizing same gender marriage.  What are we, as Integrity and The Episcopal Church to say about that?  How shall we speak to this?

As The Episcopal Church, our position has been made clear via numerous General Convention resolutions that LGBTQ persons are children of God and that we are entitled to be fully included in all aspects of the life of The Episcopal Church.  There are prohibitions against discrimination that apply to both lay and clergy members of our church.  In short, the guidelines are in place that protect us from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

We are not naïve enough to claim that, despite decades of witness, education and ministry, all the doors are open to all of us everywhere at the parish and diocesan level.  We know that some bishops will still not allow clergy to perform same gender marriages.  We know of parishes where an LGBTQ clergy person would not be called as rector.  We even know of places where lay people are excluded from the life of their dioceses because they are LGBTQ.  Our struggle continues.

We are also aware that despite being guaranteed the right to marry, we can lose our jobs, our children, our families, and much else because we availed ourselves of that right and rite.  (The problem is much more prevalent in the south than elsewhere in our church and nation.)

We have spoken about these issues, having made statements at the church-wide level and receiving the media spotlight on several occasions.  Even though The Episcopal Church may not have the leverage or impact that major national corporations have been able to use with state legislatures and/or government leaders I hope we will continue to speak out at all levels.

So, again, what are we to say to these unpleasant and discriminatory actions?

Legislatures have been hearing from faith communities on all the issues of LGBTQ inclusion.  The loudest and most vocal of those voices against inclusion have been from more conservative branches of Christendom.  That has been especially true in the south where voices such as those of the Southern Baptist Convention remain strong.  Not surprisingly, we have heard every argument against our inclusion and in support of discrimination against us that we frequently heard in our own General Conventions over the last 40 years.

We have a challenge before us and that is to be as vocal and as gently loud as we need to be in proclaiming a different view of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the reading of Scripture that does not support our exclusion.  This is a challenge best met at the local level.  Integrity USA can and has and will continue to make statements about discrimination against LGBTQ folks.  But it will take translating those statements and positions into the voice of local constituents if there is to be any chance of influencing members of state legislatures, governors and other government leaders.

Our Vice President of National Affairs, The Rev. Gwen Fry has been involved in several locations in responding to the issues raised by discriminatory legislation passed in North Carolina and Mississippi.  Her experience and resources are available to anyone who can use them.  Integrity USA will do its best to provide resources to our members and friends at the local level for this new frontal attack on who we are as children of God. Our bishops in North Carolina and Mississippi have also spoken out.  (See the websites of those dioceses.)

As I see it, the true key to our success in derailing damaging and hurtful legislation and actions is for us to put a human face on the issue.  I’ve found that many have little problem in dismissing and/or ignoring an “issue.”  But when that issue is before them with a face, eyes, ears, nose and a warm smile, it is much more difficult to dismiss.   A local face, someone known from childhood, from church, from school, makes dismissing the issue even more difficult.

I live in Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and raised.  He reminded us that none of us is free until all of us are free.  We have work to do.

Let us all pray without ceasing for our sisters and brothers who must endure yet another dehumanizing action on the part of those who should be looking after their welfare.  Let us pray that they will have the courage and strength of conviction to witness to the power of Jesus Christ in their lives.  Let us pray that they will be strong in the face of those who refuse to respect the dignity of every human being, those who avoid seeking and serving Christ in all persons and those who have the most difficulty in loving their neighbor as they love themselves.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A reflection on the Statement by the Anglican Church of Canada House of Bishops

This blog post refers to the statement by the Anglican Church of Canada House of Bishops. 

There is great irony in the last paragraph of the statement. "Despite the pain and distress we feel at our own differences, yet we strongly affirm that we are united in striving for the highest degree of communion possible in the spirit of St Paul’s teaching of the nature of the body of Christ and our need for one another in Christ, where no one can say, ‘I have no need of you’ (1 Corinthians 12.21)."

Yet the statement issued by the bishops sends the message to same gender couples and to LBGTQ people:  We have no need of you.

Blaming the situation on a failure of enough people to continue to study the issue is ludicrous.  There are and always will be some who steadfastly refuse to engage in discussion and who will try and prevent others from doing so as well.  I've seen the same situation in The Episcopal Church for years.  Failure on the part of someone to learn more about their sisters and brothers in Christ is not an excuse for treating those same sisters and brothers as "less than."  Jesus provided no exceptions when he required us to love God and love each other as we love ourselves.

How much longer will this charade about changing the teaching on marriage go on anyway?  It's not like we have not seen changes in the past....remarriage after divorce comes to mind.  Jesus mentions marriage twice in the Gospels. Once is part of a discussion about adultery and the other in a discussion about divorce.  I don't find that a ringing endorsement of what we call marriage.  If He had greater concerns, I would have thought it would have been mentioned.  Jesus greatest concern was right relationship with God and with each other.   Marriage, regardless of the gender of the parties involved does not always represent a "right relationship."

If these bishops want to actually learn, why do they not just look at the lifelong, committed, monogamous and faithful relationships of hundreds of same gender couples over the years?   What better model could they have?  And remember, these couples have remained faithful despite continuing to be treated as second class citizens.

I laughed to myself recently when the daily office readings were from Genesis and included the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and Leah, Jacob and the children born to him from three different wives.  We look to Scripture for models of marriage for today and we see nothing like even secular models.

Will we ever get over our fear and ignorance of what we don't know enough to learn from those who can teach us?  I'm not convinced.

May God continue to bless those couples who are forced to remain on the sidelines as others determine their marital fates.  May God give them the patience to endure.

Bruce Garner
President, Integrity USA

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Diocese of Texas Opens the Door to Equality for All

This past weekend marked a monumental shift in the Diocese of Texas in terms of equality for ALL. It also opened the doors for unlimited opportunities to advance the mission of the Church. With a vote of 499 in favor and 144 against the reordering and restructuring of the Diocesan Canons, a 19 year battle for the soul of the diocese has drawn to a close.

While there have been many on both sides of this battle, two progressives who deserve to be singled out are Muffie Moroney and The Rev. Jim Stockton. Both Moroney and Rev. Stockton can be described as tenaciously loyal to the ideal of justice and to the church that they love and serve. In the end it was current Bishop C Andrew Doyle who forged a new unity - a unity that will allow the diocese to finally put divisions on marriage and LGBTQ rights behind us as we are given the opportunity to move into mission without bringing along nearly two decades of harmful political baggage. Ultimately, this vote was more about mission and less about marriage.

There are several key points that highlight the effect of this council action.

1. This restructuring and reordering of the canons, treats all marriages equally. No longer will married LGBTQ clergy be automatically disqualified from serving in this diocese.

2. Parishes will be able to call the priests of their own choosing. Hiring can now be based on a person's abilities, skill and job performance.

3. The responsibility for moral discipline as it pertains to the breaking of the marriage vows within the ranks of the clergy is returned to the office of the bishop.

Even more wide sweeping than these direct effects, this council action changes the political tone for councils yet to convene. No more will there be a need to strategize, plot, and plan how one side will win against the other. Months of gathering support on either side will cease. No more political posturing over the sexual mores of an entire diocese.

This action also signals to every LGBTQ Christian that they indeed have a home in the Episcopal Church. The opportunities to serve Christ are open to all without limitations.

The road forward may be rocky but Episcopalians throughout the Diocese can hold fast to the idea of being unified in mission as they seek to engage the communities in which they serve.


S Wayne Mathis
VP of Local Affairs Integrity USA
Co Convener Integrity Houston

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Way We Were

"The way we were" is more than just the title of a hit movie and hit song.  It reflects the way things were, or at least the way we remember things were, during a specific period of time.  I have thought about that frequently during our discussions about the communique from the Primates.

I look back to “the way we were" 70, 60, 50 years ago.  I wasn’t around 70 years ago.  I was a child 60 years ago.  And I was a teenager 50 years ago.  One issue I remember about the way we were is that there were no discussions about human sexuality and certainly none about lesbian and gay issues.  I recall bisexuality being an “exotic” topic.  Christine Jorgenson introduced the world to transgender issues, even though the term itself would not come along for several more decades.

When we recite the creeds, we include phrases about believing in things seen and unseen.  Now that is usually in reference to our Creator, the Holy Spirit or one of the multitude of holy and mysterious things beyond human sight.  Yet I can also see it at work in earthly issues as well.  But, in some cases it works the opposite way: we don’t believe because we can’t or haven’t seen.  Such is the case with human sexuality issues and LGBTQ issues in particular.  Not seeing us is an excuse for thinking we do not exist.  Not seeing us provides justification for exercising bigotry and prejudice… even to the point of torture and execution.

I’ve recalled numerous ordained persons state with all seriousness that there were no "homosexuals" in their parish/diocese/province.  Such is an easy stance to take if that population is not visible, remains fully closeted, lives in fear of discovery or just cannot be public about their existence.  I have even had folks say that they did not know anyone who was "homosexual."  I have to admit that my thoughts, not my words, my thoughts were:  Doesn’t this dimwit know what is standing right in front of him (yes it is usually a male!)  Being able to "pass" has some advantages, especially having people reveal their true thoughts and feelings right in front of you!  Of course it then becomes an educational tool and opportunity as well.

The issue here is visibility. It is not, I repeat not, about whether an area of the world has "progressed" more or less than any other area.  It is not a measure of development as a country or region.  It is certainly not an issue of whether one group of God’s children is more "civilized" than another.  It is simply an issue of visibility.  Again, it is simply an issue of visibility.

So now, let’s turn to the situations that gave birth to the recent statement of the Primates of the Anglican Communion.  Aside from the expressed levels of disdain, judgment, and posturing, there is the issue of visibility, more accurately, the lack of visibility.

We know that there are LGBTQ members of every province in the Anglican Communion.  We also know that many live closeted lives….lives filled with the fear of being found out…..lives immersed in a marinade of hate, bigotry and prejudice.  Ignorance gives birth to hatred, bigotry and prejudice…and it creates an atmosphere of fear on all impacted by the situation.  These sisters and brothers in Christ are not even seen by the very people who denigrate them.

We know from the experiences of others around the globe, secular and faith based, that visibility will change the way our LGBTQ sisters and brothers are perceived and treated.  Right now, many Primates see issues of human sexuality as nothing but an issue.  When that issue gains a human face, the face of a child of God, the conversation begins to change.  It is easy for any of us to just dismiss an issue.  We have a much more difficult time, at least I hope we do, dismissing a human being.

What should we do to assist without being perceived as interfering or continuing to impose some type of colonial view upon those with whom we so vehemently disagree?  Among the first involves educating people, particularly some of the Primates, on the very existence of some of "us" among "them" and having been there for a long time.  We need to find a way to create relationships with those who are so different from us in their thinking and help them see the face of Christ even in a queer.  If they begin to see the face of Christ in us, we can further the process of helping them see the face of Christ among their own flocks.  This will neither be easy nor quick.

I hope and pray that the parishes and dioceses in The Episcopal Church will maintain ties and companion relationships with their counterparts around the communion who seek to walk apart from us. (Despite what some may hope, this issue is not going away.  It will only get more critical over time.)  Those ties and relationships provide an opportunity for us to witness to the presence of Christ in our lives as LGBTQ Christians. They allow us to help make it more safe for others by our own visibility.

I challenge us all, members of Integrity, lay and clergy leaders, all who claim The Episcopal Church as their part of the Body of Christ, to seek out ways locally, church-wide, worldwide to help those who would act out of hatred, cruelty and prejudice begin to see the face of Christ in all…..even those toward whom they would use vile and offensive labels.  Jesus Christ taught us to love and never provided any exceptions as to whom we were to love.  Let us not create what He did not.  Let us be the hands and feet, eyes and ears, heart and soul of the One who loved us and gave His life ransom for all.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

An Open Letter

An open letter to those concerned about the impact of the decisions reached at the recent meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion at Canterbury England.

So, let’s talk amongst ourselves.  What does the statement of the Primates call on us to do?  Aside from our response to their statement, there is more for us to do as members of Integrity, as members of The Episcopal Church, and as followers of Jesus Christ.

The Primates issued their statement with its “consequences” outlined therein.  As you are aware, we, Integrity USA, responded with what was, for all practical purposes, a somewhat “political” response/portion of the discussion.  Yet we have a more important discussion:  the pastoral implications and needs for ourselves and others.

What will we do to provide pastoral support to each other and to our sisters and brothers in less hospitable provinces of the Anglican Communion?

We will continue to "Love one another as I have loved you."

We will continue to "Forgive your enemies and those who hate you."

We will continue to "Forgive 70 times 7."

Why will we do these things?  These are the words Jesus spoke to His followers.  Jesus calls us over this tumult.

Jesus calls us to forgive those who hurt us, those who hate us and seek to injure us whether in body or mind or soul.  If we claim any authenticity as followers of Jesus we must confess that forgiveness is central to our identity as Christians.  These are some of the things we must do if we are to be Jesus people in a Jesus movement.

This calling is now even more important to us as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people as the result of the release of the statement by the Primates. Their words are painful to all LGBTQ people everywhere who know ourselves as beloved children of God. Their words are also painful to The Episcopal Church which has taken the risk of the Gospel in the full inclusion of all God’s children in the sacramental life of the church.

This is not the first time the Primates have inflicted pain on LGBTQ people and The Episcopal Church. I doubt it will be their last attempt. And yet, we will persevere.  We have been to the foot of the cross before and we will be there again.  That is where we find the strength to endure being there. It is where we find redemption, release and healing and the ability to forgive.

We will find forgiveness – 70 times 7. Such is the cost of discipleship.

We will find healing for our broken hearts, for there is a balm in Gilead.

We will find hope for our weary spirits. Such is the promise of the resurrection.  And, like the first disciples, we will find the courage to open the eyes of our hearts to see the fullness of love in the empty tomb.

More importantly, we will share that hope and continue to be a beacon of the unconditional love of God in Christ to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers in the very provinces where these Primates continue to oppress and persecute them.

The decades of discussion, debate, and attempts to exclude, have given both The Episcopal Church and its LGBTQ members a level of spiritual maturity that allows us to be clear about where we are, who we are, and whose we are.

Our own Primate, the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry has and I suspect will continue to remind us that we are Jesus people and part of a Jesus movement.  The President of our House of Deputies, the Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, has been clear that we will continue to be part of the Anglican Communion and will fulfill our responsibilities on the Anglican Consultative Council, the more legislative of the instruments of communion.  Integrity USA is in full support of the work and the statements of the two individuals who are the presiding officers and the chief pastors of The Episcopal Church.

So, we have and will continue to endure the cost of discipleship that comes with following what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do.  We can take no other stance if we claim to follow Jesus.  It is a price we have paid and are willing to continue to pay.

The struggle continues. We do not struggle alone.

Bruce Garner
President
Integrity USA

Friday, January 15, 2016

Integrity Response to the 2016 Anglican Primate Meeting

The Episcopal Church (TEC) is and has been an integral part of the Anglican Communion from beginning of the communion.  Throughout our history we have gathered, debated, and made decisions on what we have believed and have faith in as being the work of the Holy Spirit among us, as being true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Integrity USA has been part of The Episcopal Church for over 40 years and we have also been participants in the gatherings, debates and decisions reached by The Episcopal Church over those 40 years.  In fact, we have worked to initiate the discussions that have led to many decisions made that affected lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) members of our church and our society.  In the early days, our members and supporters put themselves at considerable personal risk to engage in discussions around human sexuality.

We believe in the work of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot do otherwise if we are to be true to the Gospel, particularly the account provided to us by John: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." John 16: 12-13a

The work of the Holy Spirit did not cease with its coming on the Day of Pentecost.  Rather, the work continued and continues, as many will testify from personal experiences.  God continues to work and speak in our world today.  We believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, continues to guide us into all truth even as history continues to unfold before us.

The statement from the 2016 Primates meeting is not seen by Integrity USA as bringing the good news of Jesus Christ.  Our own Primate, the Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, has called on us as TEC to be part of the “Jesus movement” and to be “Jesus people.”  Jesus’ ministry was one of building relationships, right relationships.  He was not guided or restricted by any human precept that might divide the children of God.  He was not one to make distinctions unless it was to shine the light of justice on a situation.  It was clear that He abhorred relationships that were based on coercion, abuse or exploitation.  Unfortunately, we see glimpses of such in the statement of the Primates and the actions proposed.

To be as clear as possible in our response to that statement, we offer our response to each of the paragraphs of the Primates’ statement below:

1. We gathered as Anglican Primates to pray and consider how we may preserve our unity in Christ given the ongoing deep differences that exist among us concerning our understanding of marriage.

Response:  The “understanding” of marriage has changed significantly over history.  What was initially an exchange of property, i.e., the woman, has moved closer to being the formalization of a loving, caring, committed and monogamous relationship between a man and a woman.  We find it interesting to note that the only references made by Jesus to marriage were in the context of discussions about divorce and adultery.  TEC’s understanding of marriage has not changed; rather it has broadened to include loving, caring, committed and monogamous relationships between couples of the same gender.

2. Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.

Response:  TEC has engaged in lengthy study, prayer and discussion about marriage at both the faith and teaching level and at the personal relationship level.  Marriage is not a definition to be taught but a relationship to be lived out in faith the partners have in each other and the faith they have in the God of their creation.  We put into canon law what we believe and practice before God.

3. All of us acknowledge that these developments have caused further deep pain throughout our Communion.

Response:  Opening the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all has almost always caused similar developments in the history of the church.  Even in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter was greeted by dissension when God made it clear to him through a dream that all foods were clean and that he should not call anything profane that God had made.  James the brother of Jesus was also met with dissension when he declared that it was not necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised to become followers of Jesus.  He ended centuries of tradition with a single decision.  We have been engaged in the discussions of marriage for decades.

4. The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.

Response:  A truly critical view of the teaching of Scripture is that marriage was not just between a man and a woman but could also be between a man and as many women as he chose to have as his wives.  Again, Acts tells us that the only men who were restricted to one wife were bishops and deacons.  It seems disingenuous to cite something that has not always been true and that is still not true in some provinces of the Anglican Communion. The most important issue seems to be that of faithful, lifelong union and we still uphold that value.

5. In keeping with the consistent position of previous Primates’ meetings such unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity is considered by many of us as a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion.

Response:  This seems only a recent view of our relationships.  Books of Common Prayer, Canons, liturgical materials, etc. have been revised and utilized throughout our common history by the provinces as they found the need to do so.  None of the provinces have sought the approval or even input from their sister provinces on such matters.

6. Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us and places huge strains on the functioning of the Instruments of Communion and the ways in which we express our historic and ongoing relationships.

Response:  Yet this has only become the case with regard to issues of gender and human sexuality. Otherwise, we have all given each other considerable leeway in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ as was best for us in our respective situations.

7. It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.

Response: Whatever distance has been created between provinces will not be lessened by excluding any other provinces from full participation in the life of the Anglican Communion.  We do not learn from each other when we are apart from each other, regardless of the mechanism.  We do not allow room for the Holy Spirit to speak collectively to us when we exclude each other.

8. We have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a Task Group to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.

Response:  We fully support the appointment of such a Task Group.  However, that Task Group must also address the injustices, torture, imprisonment and killing of LGBTQ people taking place in several provinces of the Anglican Communion.  It must also include forthright discussions about human trafficking, a scourge on all of society.  It must also include discussions about hunger, poverty, illness and all that impacts the lives of God’s children.  Our Scriptural tradition clearly focuses far more attention on our responsibilities to others and the human condition than it does on any issue of human sexuality.  

If we believe the faith we seek to practice, we have no basis for abusing, exploiting or coercing any child of God into a particular way of living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Each of us has been created by Love for love, by God for love.  Jesus Christ came that all might be saved.  His was a ministry to the excluded, the marginalized, the outcasts, the poor, the neglected and all whom the powers of His day would ignore.  Whom shall we follow?  Jesus Christ or those who would seek power at the expense of other children of God.  We follow Jesus as Jesus people in a Jesus movement.

Faithfully,
Bruce Garner
President
Integrity USA

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

World AIDS Day - 2015

The date was June 5.  It was a Friday – and it was 1981.  The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) would list the first cases of what would later become known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS – a word that still brings chills when it is uttered.  Some years ago I read a copy of that MMWR  - I had never seen it before.  As I read the description of the conditions of the first five cases, I shivered involuntarily.  Knowing what was to come didn’t help any.  The name of the condition would later become known as HIV – Human Immunodeficiency Virus once the source of the condition was identified.

Today is World AIDS Day, an international acknowledgement that this disease is still with us and has a global impact like few things have ever had.  It is always December 1.  That’s unfortunate for us Episcopalians because it gets eclipsed by the beginning of Advent and the prayers and lessons that go with our liturgical New Year.

The Episcopal Church was the first church to address the AIDS epidemic at a church-wide level.  It began with a gathering at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in February 1987 when those of us who had been involved in various aspects of the issue came together for a national conference.   It was several days of tears.  There were tears of loss.  There were tears of relief that none of us was doing what we did alone, despite the fact that we were just learning about each other.  There were tears of anger at the failure of government to respond to this epidemic when it was still new.  There were tears of grief over the thousands we knew who had already lost the battle with AIDS.  There were tears…..cleansing and refreshing, helping us each to sort out where we were and what was next.

From that gathering the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition (NEAC) was born.  From that gathering emerged an “AIDS Desk” at the Church Center at 815 2nd Avenue in New York City. From that gathering a response was begun that would last for years and spin off various other ministries and programs around the country.

When the staff at the Church Center was reorganized, the AIDS Desk was eliminated but NEAC became the contractor to provide for the ministry of The Episcopal Church in the HIV/AIDS arena. Over the years there were funding challenges but The Episcopal Church continued to fund at least a minimal effort through NEAC.

Unfortunately, the funding for any HIV/AIDS ministry provided by The Episcopal Church will end as of midnight, December 31, 2015.  The budget for the triennial ending in 2015 is the last budget to include such funding.  At that sad moment, The Episcopal Church will have bowed out of a church wide response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The only other source of potential funding might be through the Executive Council, but that is doubtful.  And without a commitment to sustained funding, NEAC nor any other agency is likely to take up the baton for prevention education, ministry and hope.

From my perspective, the loss of funding is another aspect of the manifestation of racism in our church.  Most congregations no longer see those ill from AIDS in their pews.  It isn’t that such folks do not exist.  It is simply that the majority of new infections are now people of color and most of our churches are very white.  The time of the handsome gay men dying among us is long past.  What is out of sight soon becomes out of mind.

There have been, sadly, few changes in the situation over the years.  The infection rate is on the rise among young gay men again.  Province IV is the most heavily impacted geographic area of our nation and our church.  Province IV is where the costly and often deadly combination of ignorance, poverty, illiteracy, racism, stigma and homophobia happens so readily.    Statistics are alarming in that the fastest rates of increased infection rates are in Province IV.  Some areas exhibit rates comparable to sub-Saharan Africa.  (Even some truly honest sex education could have a huge impact but this area is also the home of “abstinence only” sex education in schools.  It works so well that many of the states in that area remain near the top of the charts of infections from HIV and other STD’s as well as teen pregnancy.  No one seems to make the connection between these statistics and the lack of basic and honest sex education.

June 5, 2001 was the 20th anniversary of the beginning of this terrible pandemic.  At the end of this article, you will see an address I delivered on the occasion of an observance of the 20th anniversary….it was an observance….no celebration was appropriate.  As I re-read what I had said I was saddened and dismayed at the situation we are still in as a church and a nation.

Yes, of course, we have PreP as a way of helping stem infections.  But rising infection rates of other STD’s indicates that condoms are not being used by those on PreP as is dictated by the regimen for the medication.  False security lures many into peril.  Maybe some day in the not too distant future we will actually deal realistically with HIV/AIDS.

So, I invite you on World AIDS Day 2015 to pause and remember those who have died, pray for those still struggling, and commit to doing something to get the attention of elected officials and others that might actually slow the infection rate and make this truly a chronic condition rather than a deadly condition.  It is possible.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA


AIDS: Remembering 20 years

The date was June 5 – same as today. It was a Friday – and it was 1981. The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) would list the first cases of what would later become known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS – a word that still brings chills when it is uttered. A few days ago I read a copy of that MMWR - I had never seen it before. As I read the description of the conditions of the first five cases, I shivered involuntarily. Knowing what was to come didn’t help any. The name of the condition would later become known as HIV – Human Immunodeficiency Virus once the source of the condition was identified.

Yet from the start, the scientific/medical community would perpetrate a travesty on those infected with this virus. They would initially call it GRID – standing for Gay Related Immune Deficiency. In doing so they would, from the beginning, forever make AIDS a political condition instead of a medical condition. They would affix to a medical condition a stigma that remains associated with it to this day – 20 years later.

It should have been unconscionable to even think about connecting a medical condition to a specific group of people. Tay Sacs has no reference to people of Jewish or Mediterranean descent in its title. Sickle cell anemia is not, by its name, connected to people of African descent. Yet it was done with AIDS – and all who are infected with HIV continue – one way or another – to pay the price for initially associating the condition with a particular sexual orientation.

By 1982 people had begun dying in noticeable numbers. It wasn’t clear why except that they all had diseases such as pneumocystis pneumonia and Kaposi’s sarcoma. And these were not diseases that killed people under normal circumstances – as we were to learn, people with immune systems that were intact. These were the two most well known infections at the beginning of the epidemic. Time would reveal exotic, nearly unpronounceable viral and bacteriological infections that caused dementia, wasting syndrome, diarrhea, and a host of situations ultimately resulting in a way of death as horrible as any imaginable. Typically at the time of death, the victim looked for all the world like a victim of Auschwitz or some other Nazi concentration camp from the Holocaust. I saw it all – and not long after it began.

In the early years, those thought to be at risk were often referred to as the four H’s: hookers, homosexuals, Haitians, and hemophiliacs. Again – labels associated with people were used to identify a disease. It would be several years before we learned that the method of transmission of the virus had nothing what so ever to do with who you were. It was plainly and simply a matter of something that one did – an activity that put one at risk for becoming infected with HIV. None the less, the stigma still lingers.

My involvement with the epidemic began through the Social Security Administration. A friend was having problems with his disability claim. Things were not as efficient or well-defined back then as they are now. Months went by without a decision. In July 1984 when I learned that Tom was in Emory hospital again and no decision had been made I got involved. I was finally able to determine the source of the problem with the claim: the doctor had waltzed all around a diagnosis of AIDS but had never written the definitive words in the medical evidence.

I took it upon myself to drive to the Emory Clinic, obtain the proper medical and take it to the Disability Determination Services in Decatur. The examiner said he would let me know the outcome. I got a little pushy and advised that I would wait, explaining that Tom was near death and I wanted to tell him before he died that his claim had been approved. The examiner went away for a short while, returned, and told me that Tom’s disability claim was approved.

I rushed to Emory Hospital and told Tom. He could not speak. The tracheotomy tube was still in his throat, even though life support had been removed. It would be just a matter of time. But Tom was alert and smiled when I gave him the news. And he knew his children would be receiving survivor benefits as well as his retroactive payments.
It would be many more hours before Tom would leave this world. He died shortly after midnight on July 4, 1984. Watching him take his last breath is a scene permanently etched in my memory. 1984 Was the year that the mode of transmission of the virus were identified.

As the summer of 1984 wore on, I began to see another friend, Gene, begin to exhibit symptoms that would become all too familiar to me over the years: fatigue, shortness of breath, no energy. In September, Gene was diagnosed with AIDS. That same weekend I began my career as an AIDS volunteer with AID Atlanta. In October I joined the board of directors of AID Atlanta, where I would remain for six years serving as Treasurer, Secretary and two terms as President. I have been on at least one and as many as three AIDS service organization boards at the local and/or national level since that first association began. Gene died a year later – in October of 1985. Gene’s and Tom’s deaths were only the tip of an iceberg of death and grief that would impact me and thousands of others for the rest of our lives.

The first International Conference on AIDS was held in Atlanta in 1985 – SSA was there. It took a small fight with HHS but we were there!

Friends began dying at a horribly fast rate. For many years I lost an average of two dozen friends a year. I once kept a list. When it topped 200 names, I stopped entering names in my death log. There was no point. With one or two exceptions I lost one entire generation of friends then made and lost another. Almost all of the people with whom I had expected to grow old died.

The numbers of cases continued to rise, as did the numbers of deaths from AIDS. Even after the virus was isolated and named HIV, infection and death continued. And even the discovery of the virus was embroiled in politics: French and American doctors fought and argued over who discovered it first! Who gave a damn about who found the virus first, people were dying! In 1986 Surgeon General C. Everett Coop called for AIDS education in children of all ages. And he called for the widespread use of condoms.

My closest, dearest, and best friend was Walter Alan Morgan – Alan to me, Walter to his family. We met when he came to the Savannah District Office as I was leaving the Savannah Southside Branch Office to come to the Regional Office. We discovered that we were soul mates – we were brothers born to different families. It was a relationship between friends that few are privileged to ever have. Thirty seconds into any telephone conversation either of us could tell if something wasn’t going right with the other. We truly communicated like siblings.

Alan went on to become an Operations Supervisor in the West Palm Beach District Office and then the Branch Manager of the Pompano Beach office. As fate would have it, we never lived in the same town: Didn’t matter, ours was a friendship not dependent on proximity.

Alan hid his condition from me for a long time. During a period of my life when I was experiencing the loss of so many friends I had commented to him that I wasn’t sure if I could handle it if it happened to him. So he kept his own illness from me until he was already very sick.

The last time I saw Alan, he was in a hospital bed in Broward County Hospital. I sat by that bed all night long praying that he would die – that God would take him home. It didn’t happen that night. The following Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1987 I received the call telling me that Alan had died earlier that morning. 1987 was the year AZT received approval for use in fighting AIDS. Too late for Alan.

I learned about grief more intense than I could have imagined – despite having already gone through so many deaths. I also learned the danger that comes from not dealing with that level of grief. Making the panel you see here was a cathartic experience for me. I was finally able to say good by to Alan, to let go. In May, 1988, when I turned the panel over to the Names Project, the moment of presentation had been preceded by hours of gut wrenching sobbing. When it was over – I was cleansed and finally ready to move on.

The panel I had made for Alan was presented to the Names Project at the 1988 display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The display committee would later become the Atlanta Chapter of the Names Project. I would have the honor and privilege of serving on and chairing its board of directors several years later. Dozens of us were bitten by the Quilt Bug! It was a bite that would provide some of the salve needed to help heal the wounds inflicted by the AID epidemic.

Once the virus was isolated, there was new hope that drugs could be found and developed that would fight the disease. The first, as mentioned, was AZT.

AZT was a gamble. It was not initially clear what the dosage should be, how often it should be taken, what the side effects were, or what the long-term effects might be. It all began with 4 pills every four hours around the clock. There were jokes about gay men “beeping” every four hours. It was the pill timers that everyone used to keep up with their medicines. You could be in a group and someone’s timer would go off. There was this mad scramble until the one pill timer that had actually gone off was located. It was a simple touch of humor for an increasingly sad situation.

During the early years, AID Atlanta, founded in 1982, was the only service provider in Atlanta and the entire state for people with AIDS. Later Project Open Hand was founded – a spin off from AID Atlanta’s meals on wheels program. Similarly the Atlanta Interfaith AIDS Network sprang from AID Atlanta’s Department of Pastoral Care. We could not get grant funds to support the department, so we spun it off on its own. A former AID Atlanta board member, Sandra McDonald founded Outreach, INC., to provide a program of services focused toward intravenous drug users. Later Jerusalem House was founded. Then AIDS Education Services for Minorities and others would be founded to deal with the needs of those affected by the epidemic.

It was also during those years that we witnessed people with AIDS being bodily removed from airplanes and left to crawl across a sidewalk to a taxi – if one agreed to take them. We witnessed housing evictions – not because of inability to pay rent – but because of being ill with AIDS. Some dentists, even some doctors, refused to treat AIDS patients. Ignorance and fear were the orders of the day. Some of that never changes.

In 1989, I reached a milestone age: forty. It was time for complete physical exams and time to begin watching for those things that can go wrong with the human body as it begins to age. Part of that exam was to be an HIV antibody test. But I chose to go a different route – a T-cell count. If the count was below a certain number, it would be pretty certain that I was infected. The T-cell count wasn’t high enough. I took the HIV antibody test. The test confirmed what, in my gut, I already knew: I was infected. There was no screaming or crying, no hand wringing. I was well versed in the subject of HIV at that point in my life and I would simply deal with it. By looking at the T-cell levels and a medical event that took place in my life in 1982, it became clear that was when I became infected and sero-converted.

Later during that same year, 1989, the drug protocols would indicate that anyone with a T-cell count lower than 500 should to on AZT. Mine was and I did. I went on AZT. I washed down my very first doses with a Michelob beer as I stood in my dining room. And I started beeping every four hours!

Time and AIDS marched on. The drugs changed – new ones came out – some worked better than others, some not at all. And some people could not tolerate the side effects of any of them. More people died. I remained involved in AIDS work – partly from a sense of obligation; partly with a fervent hope that someone would be there for me if I needed them. I developed new circles of friends. Not everyone was dead – most were. I attended funerals, I conducted funerals, I buried friends.

Ryan White died from AIDS in 1990 at age 18. His name lives on in the Ryan White CARE Act – now the major source of Federal funding for services for people living with HIV/AIDS.

New classes of drugs became available and I’ve been on a good many of them. Most worked for me quite well – no side effects of any consequence. One notable exception occurred when we had to smuggle DDC into this country from Mexico. Our own FDA had not yet given it their seal of approval despite its use in several places elsewhere in the world. Apparently one shipment of DDC came into Atlanta that was about twice the usual strength. The side effect of DDC is neuropathy. So when hundreds of us started losing the feeling in our toes, we stopped taking it immediately.

By 1995 HIV became the leading cause of death among Americans between the ages of 25 and 44. In 1996 protease inhibitors and multi-drug therapies were introduced, bringing new optimism.

At the moment I’m on a three drug combination or cocktail. I take four pills each morning and three at night. To those I add half a dozen other pills during the day. Some control the potential side effects of others – some deal with other issues. But I no longer beep!

In many ways, HIV is becoming a chronic, manageable medical condition rather than a health crisis leading to an eminent death. The pills keep many of us healthy. But they still don’t work for everyone. I still lose a couple of friends each year to AIDS. And the situation in the less developed areas of the world remains a serious health crisis, generally leading to an early death. The drugs either are not available or are too expensive to buy. In those parts of the world, AIDS still means death. It also means millions and millions of orphaned children.

I saw that face to face several years ago on a visit to Honduras for the National Commission on AIDS of the Episcopal Church. I sat across the table from four young adults, all HIV infected. There I was, with access to all the drugs available for the treatment of HIV. There they were, they had access to virtually nothing. The drugs that are available are targeted toward infected children. Talk about guilt!

Educational efforts in the gay community in this country slowed the rate of new infections to a standstill several years ago. But by 1999 there was evidence that the infection rate is once again on the rise. A new generation of young gay men didn’t have the preventive education provided by the deaths of dozens of friends. Youth equates with invincibility and immortality for so many. Add to that the false sense of security the drug regimens appear to bring and you have a recipe for disaster. They don’t always understand the necessity of not engaging in risky sexual behaviors, much less the necessity of not sharing needles. Both behaviors still spread HIV.

Sadly, it is rare for children to receive an adequate education about HIV prevention in school, or at home, or at church or synagogue. Teaching them to “just say no” has never worked. Kids need to know in terms they understand, however explicit and direct they need to be, what causes HIV infection and how to prevent it. Talking to them about sex, teaching the use of condoms, will not increase sexual activity among young people. The high rates of teen pregnancies and STD’s are obvious indicators that kids are having sex regardless of whether or not we are talking to them about it! The most powerful educational tool that school administrators seem to find safe enough to use is the AIDS Memorial Quilt – but that alone is not enough.

It may be clear to you now that I’ve reached the point where I have stopped preaching and gone to meddling! Well I’m going to meddle some more. And I am going to be blunt.

There are powerful myths out there about AIDS and HIV. Those myths are powerful and they are dangerous. I’ve mentioned one – the myth that talking to kids about sex makes them have sex. Last week the results of a national study showed clearly that safe-sex programs do NOT increase sexual activity – a reason often cited by some groups for not using them.

There is another myth that there are no African American men who have sex with men. None are gay. If anything, they are all bisexuals. Hogwash! The same lie is told in the Latino community as well, and to some degree in the Asian community. Those myths kill! No minced words, no apologies – those myths kill people daily. Recent CDC studies show AIDS is now the leading cause of death in African-Americans between the ages of 25 and 44. And in a study done in six large cities, nearly one third of the young black gay and bisexual men are testing positive for HIV – one third, one out of three!

If you take nothing else away from here today, at least take the truth. Take the truth that more than 20 million people have died from AIDS worldwide and over 8,000 more die each day. Take the truth that HIV infects 40 million people and that number increases by over 14 thousand every day.

Take the truth that unprotected sexual activity spreads HIV. Take the truth that the virus doesn’t care what sexual orientation, social or economic status, race, creed, or religion its host might be. Take the truth that there are men who have sex with men in all racial and ethnic groups. Take the truth that denying the existence of those men can condemn them to death. Take the truth that your children and grandchildren, your nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters need to know that having unprotected sex can infect them with HIV regardless of the gender of their sexual partners. Talk to them. Share that truth. Take the truth that 4.3 million children under the age of 15 have died from AIDS.

Take the truth that there are over 18 million children who have been made orphans by AIDS.

Take the truth that sharing needles also shares infection. Take the truth that needle exchange programs slow the spread of infection and they don’t increase intravenous drug use.

Take the truth that AIDS is not a divine punishment for anything anyone did or did not do. Take the truth that AIDS is caused by a virus and that virus is spread through the actions of human beings: good people, bad people, rich and poor, black and white, red, yellow and brown and all shades between. Being infected is not the consequences of who you are. If it is the consequence of anything it is the consequence of doing something out of either ignorance or stupidity. Being infected with HIV has nothing to do with the worth or value of the human being that hosts it.

If any of us truly believes that having HIV reflects a consequence of someone’s worth as a human being, we had better be ready and able to explain why someone gets the flu or cancer or emphysema or leukemia or polio or Hodgkin’s disease or sickle cell anemia or Chrohn's disease or any other disease we could name. The truth remains that there is no connection between any diseases we might get and our worth as human beings. Disease is not punishment.

The final truth I want you to take away is the truth of my survival. You know, I can’t state with certainty why I am still on this earth. I wasn’t supposed to still be here by now. But I am! I attribute my continued good health and survival to a number of factors: I didn’t give myself an opportunity for further infection. I’ve engaged in protected sexual activity for the last sixteen years. I’ve had good quality medical care that involved me in the decisions that were made. The various drugs I’ve taken did what they were supposed to do. I have a good self-image of myself as who I am as a gay man. I don’t believe and never did believe the garbage that there was anything flawed about me.

I have a firm resolve. That’s another way of saying I’m hard headed – at least according to my parents! And I have a very strong faith in the one who created me. I know that the one who created me did not inflict this virus upon me. For me, these are the factors that sustain me and contribute to my continued survival. My goal is to live to be a hundred years old – and I’m over half way there already!

My reasons for sharing my story with you are simple: To let you know there are those who are surviving with HIV. To let you know that there is hope. And finally to let you know that you can do something about HIV/AIDS: Learn about it! Teach about it! Debunk the deadly myths about AIDS! Save people’s lives! Maybe 20 years from now, AIDS will be a disease of the past.

Thank you!

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Installation of the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

The Most Rev. Michael Curry installed.
This past Saturday and Sunday were amazingly remarkable days in the life of The Episcopal Church. It was my good fortune to be able to attend both the Vigil at the DC Armory on Saturday and the Installation of The Most Rev. Michael Curry at the National Cathedral on Sunday, the Feast of All Saints. The presence of the Holy Spirit was evident!

Saturday’s event was sponsored by the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE).  They turned the DC Armory into church for the day, creating wonderful worship space from a building which the preacher, The Rev. Sandye Wilson, noted had been used for a horse show just a few weeks ago!  As she shared, if you smell something, it’s legitimate!

The liturgy was on the “high” side of the spectrum with no less than three thurifers swinging the smoke in the processions in and out. Joyful music and laughter were a big part of the service, clearly a celebration in every sense of the word. I sat next to former Integrity USA Treasurer Lis Jacobs. She was delightful company. Bishop Michael and I hugged and spoke briefly.

Sunday began with some rainy weather but that would prove not to dampen anyone’s spirits. I arrived at the National Cathedral early enough to be fourth in line! I was fortunate enough to be in a seat about twenty rows back from the altar and next to a large screen monitor. Between my location and the monitor, I missed very little of a powerful and joyful service.

The procession was in multiple parts/sections involving Native Americans drumming in a rhythmic and almost hypnotic cadence. Bishops of our church were seated in the first chair of each row along the center aisle. A double row of bishops occupied the fore and aft rows of the crossing where the Gospel was read. An aerial view provided the reason for this unusual seating pattern:  The red of the bishops’ vestments formed a gigantic and dramatic red cross!

Then came the knock on the great center doors of the west entrance by still Presiding Bishop-elect Curry. He was welcomed with thunderous responses from the congregation of some 2,500. We renewed our Baptismal Covenant and were asperged by Bishop Michael and The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who clearly enjoyed themselves in the process.

The Primatial Staff was then given to Bishop Michael by Bishop Katharine and he became the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. He was then seated in the stall of the Great Choir designated for the Presiding Bishop.

The Liturgy of the Word continued with prayers for the Presiding Bishop offered by representatives of four faith communities, followed by the Gloria and the appropriate collects and readings for the Feast of All Saints. Bishop Michael’s sermon was next.

It was clear for ears that would listen that our new Presiding Bishop’s vision for The Episcopal Church is one that includes welcome for ALL at the table.  He intends to exclude no one. He specifically mentioned sexual orientation in his sermon. I’m not sure I had ever actually heard those words at such an occasion before. Code words perhaps, but not the exact words; references perhaps, but not such specific words.

I found myself thinking back to another Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Edmund Browning. He proclaimed that there would be no outcasts in The Episcopal Church. That was his intent and his vision and he paid a price for such forward thinking in the early 90’s. Yet he stayed the course as much as anyone could in such stormy seas. I will always be grateful for his extraordinary leadership.

From my perspective, Bishop Michael will indeed move us forward to the realization of the goals that there will be no outcasts in our church and that all will be welcome in it. The task is not his alone, however. Each of us must do our part in bringing into being the beloved kingdom where all are equal in God’s eyes.

The presence of the Holy Spirit was most evident to me at two times in the service.  The Cathedral Choir of Men and Girls sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” during the offertory.  On the last chorus, as the oblations and offering came down the aisle, the congregation stood and joined in the singing.  It was an emotional moment.  Then when Bishop Michael said: “Let us join hands and sing the prayer our Savior taught us” it was remarkable to watch everyone take a hand and even more moving to see the bishops seated on the aisle to step out into the aisle to take the hand across from them.  Then at the closing words of the Lord’s Prayer, all hands were raised together.  I choked up and could not sing.

The service continued with the Eucharist, something ordinary for us but extraordinary in this time and place. I have rarely heard a congregation be so forceful in responding in the liturgy and in singing.

The closing hymn was “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and earth and heaven did truly ring! I was blessed to have been present.  It was an experience of a lifetime. Yes, indeed, the presence of the Holy Spirit was evident, almost palpable.  And yes, God is good... all the time!

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA